By Lisa Golden Schroeder
Last year, the United Nations officially dubbed 2013 The International Year of Quinoa. Really? I’m guessing they dubbed all sorts of things as mascots for this year, but with many Just BARE fans asking about how to cook it, I thought I’d tackle the question of what’s the buzz about quinoa.
For me, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been hanging around the co-op grocery and health food stores for years, but it’s a bit of a newcomer to the average American pantry. I first made a pilaf with it years ago, when my kids were little—and honestly wasn’t that impressed. But I realize now that at that time what I could buy in bulk at the co-op was minimally processed—a good thing—but it hadn’t been pre-rinsed like a lot of the quinoa we can buy now in mainstream grocery stores. That pre-cooking rinse removes a slightly bitter outer coating that protects the tiny seeds from birds. But that first experience left me reluctant to make it a pantry staple. Until two years ago, when a fantastic salad recipe landed in my kitchen via the first Just BARE Just 5 Cooking Challenge: Pico de Gallo and Chicken Quinoa Salad became the vehicle for making quinoa a regular at my table. I loved how the small grains melded with the spicy dressing and complemented the meatiness of the chicken—no bitter taste, super-fast to make. Since then I’ve developed recipes using quinoa and we continued to get entries in last year’s Just 5 contest using this terrifically versatile and easy to cook grain. Last night I was at a potluck supper, where there were four quinoa-based salads on the buffet table!
Some fast facts about quinoa…
- It’s been lumped into the “ancient grains” family that includes triticale, spelt, and kamut (more grains we wonder what to do with and see in loaves of hearty breads), but it’s really a tiny Peruvian seed that’s related to leafy green vegetables, versus grains like wheat or barley, which are grasses.
- We eat it like a grain. It has a mild, nutty flavor (though if it’s not rinsed before cooking it can have a vaguely smoky, bitter flavor) that makes it as versatile as rice—absorbing the flavors of other ingredients, broth, or seasonings.
- It’s a nutrition powerhouse. Its protein content is high, as it contains all the essential amino acids needed to make it complete. It’s also high in lysine, an amino acid important for tissue growth and repair, is a good source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, has a high iron content, and has a respectable amount of fiber.
- Quinoa is very easy to cook. It takes only 15 minutes, making it perfect for quick meals. And it’s easy to tell when it’s done because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them. You can buy it in most grocery stores, in a variety of colors, from pale yellow to red (I love red quinoa—it just has an eye appeal that you don’t get with rice.)
I really want to encourage you to try it—as a terrific go-to pantry staple, for its “super food” status, and for the great tasting meals you can make with it. Try these other recipes in our archive: Grilled Chicken with Sage-Infused Quinoa & Harvest Vegetable Bake and Country Thai Chicken & Quinoa Salad.